That first kiss is a cupcake-shaped grenade that explodes into springtime rain. As a man, it’s more important than the best seats in the stadium, that huge job promotion, or the first time your father calls you for advice. It is a prelude to all the best things in life: waking up to an empty bed and smelling toaster waffles, that conversation where you swear to always love her and she tells you the same, the pile of limbs and laughter following the spectacular failure of an exotic sex position.
There’s the first kiss. And there’s the next first kiss. The one after that. Some have all the electricity of a pan of lasagna. Some are as forgettable as a belch. Others are sloppy, wet, gasping duels that last a night, or a semester, or the awkward duration of a temp job. Hopefully, eventually, there’s a first kiss that leads to another, and another, and before you know it, you’re rubbing Ben Gay into someone’s old aching feet.
The best argument for dating is that it can lead to kissing. Smooching. Lip boxing. Inhaling face. Never forget that. A kiss is an immortal handshake. Sweating palms. A peppermint quickly chewed. Two tongues crashing into one another like a pitchfork of lightning bisecting a horizon. Kisses break spells, make promises, and start wars. And in the end, it’s like the game of poker.
If you stay at the table, you can either win or lose. But if you get up from the table, neither will happen. So play your cards. Always be honest with yourself and the other players. Never bluff. Sure, you’ll lose. But you can win. That’s worth it. All of it. It’s a game of chance. But as the poet says: one cannot lose forever. Keep dating. Keep losing. Eventually, all the pop ballads on the radio will play just for you.
Last week, I canceled dating. I pulled this column over and called it off. You know why? Because I have two sides to my bed: on the left, it’s a carpet of comfy marshmallows. On the other, coils of dog poop. Guess which side I woke up on? But I also unilaterally banned dating because I was tired of everyone complaining about the process. About the game. But I take it back, because, honestly, without the challenge, we’re all just bags full of bones and food.
My very first kiss was with an upperclassman in high school. She was taller than me. Popular. Dark and witty and one day after school I found myself snuggling with her in a recliner, which was its own conquest. Her heart was a Yule log under a sweater and I made the decision to lie very, very still, like one of those human statues that performs in parks. Her mouth moved closer to mine and all I remember thinking is how curious it was that this was happening. She tasted like a stick of Big Red. Then there was the first kiss from my first college girlfriend who told me to come to her dorm room because she had something to tell me. She sat cross-legged on her dorm bed, told me to sit across from her, and she stared at me seriously. Then she struck with the speed of a cobra. We discussed this event for a good half-an-hour, and then concluded that we should do it again … all night long.
So many first kisses, and none of them sucked. Even the ones that tasted like cigarettes, or were with women who were wrong for me. There was the one woman I made it my personal crusade to pursue, which I did with a poet’s boner. My persistence amused her, so much so that she didn’t laugh out loud when I told her that every star in the sky was a first kiss. It was the most romantic thing I could think of, and I had written it down so I wouldn’t forget it. Have you ever kissed someone who just can’t stop smirking? She never called me back, but on a clear night, I can point out our star.
One of my first kisses in New York was with a woman I met through a friend. She was an actress, and worldly, and she took me to my first big city club. I refused to dance, and I watched her twirl in circles. I watched her dance with other guys, and my heart made the same sound an empty glass of ice makes. And when she found me giving her distance to dance with whomever she wanted, she held my face gently, as if it were made out of eggshell, and planted a sweaty, vodka-tinged one right on me. And then I danced: I dirty danced, funky danced, danced the way I imagine Pinocchio would dance if he were being repeatedly stabbed in the ass with an electric cattle prod.
So many first kisses.
Of course, there’s my most recent first kiss. We were just two single friends, tipsy on tequila. Walking, and giggling. A pair of goofballs cracking the world’s worst jokes. A good night out, all things considered. She was single, and so was I. We’d both shared our adventures, in the secret hopes that it would drive the other mad with jealousy. For no good reason, we stopped mid-stroll and turned to each other. Suddenly, at least to me, it became clear. What must be done. We were on a date in disguise. She’s beautiful. I’m drunk. The city shrinks, as if to draw us together, a conspiracy of concrete. When I was a kid, there was a local pool with a high-dive. I was terrified of it. It was so high; it seemed to hold up the sky. For years I watched other kids risk death jumping off it. One day, I asked my dad what would happen if I, too, dove off that board.
“You’ll never know unless you try, son.”
I gulped. I climbed. I jumped. I gambled – I mean, I could have died.
There’s a moment between jumping off that board and hitting the water where your stomach floats. Gravity tickles. You’re flying. It’s a half a nanosecond, but it’s the reason all those kids, including me, slowly ascended that tower. The fall is, at most, one and a half eye-blinks. But, still, you’re suspended in air.
That was exactly what that last first kiss was like. Only there was no crash into cool waters warmed by the sun.